Architect Visit: Q & A with Architect Mell Lawrence

August 08, 2010 5:00 PM

BY Janet Hall

Mell Lawrence of Mell Lawrence Architects has been taking note of his surroundings since he was a child growing up in Houston, Texas; on road trips across the state he developed an appreciation for rural vernacular architecture "viewed from the car window," he says. Now based in Austin, Texas (he is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin), Lawrence has won acclaim for his residential projects, which he describes as "modern, warm, textural, and graphic." His buildings reflect his interest in vernacular barn structures, but his primary inspiration is nature: "Our natural surroundings teach us about shape, proportion, scale, pattern, texture, color, and light," Lawrence says. "We design with an attention toward these lessons as well as the value of using elemental materials in construction. We love finding the extraordinary in the ordinary and seeking results which are timeless. Modern buildings can be warm, intimate spaces that celebrate the connection of indoor and outdoor space." We recently spoke with Lawrence about his inspirations, design philosophies, and favorite artists and musicians.

Above: Mell Lawrence (seated in center) and his team.

RM: What inspires you?

Lawrence: Visual and musical beauty.

RM: What bands are you listening to currently?

Lawrence: Gotan Project, Vashti Bunan, and Radiohead.

RM: Favorite visual artists?

Lawrence: Arthur Ganson, Theo Jansen, Arthur Mathews, Charles Mackintosh, James Turrel.

RM: Can you describe your creative process?

Lawrence: Be fearless about trying ideas, then edit with a mighty sword.

RM: Whom would you most like to have a drink with?

Lawrence: Leonardo da Vinci

RM: Where have you traveled most recently?

Lawrence: France and Peru.

RM: Professional highlights?

Lawrence: Several trusting, collaborative clients as I was establishing my office and finding my way.

RM: Your favorite neighborhood in Austin?

Lawrence: Transitional commercial areas near downtown are my favorite. I enjoy the people and activity and the new retail and design spaces. I like the mix of old and new.

RM: When you are designing, what do you keep in mind?

Lawrence: How all the materials, shapes, textures, colors, and reflections will work together and look on the site in the sun, at night, in the shade. It is a lot to consider and sometimes it can be forgotten that these choices will be experienced in the real world, these things can easily be forgotten at a design desk.

Above: Mod Cott, a simple guest house located on a lake, features 14 solar panels that double as a shading device. Photos by Jacob Termansen